Being tied by Annie late in the bout sparks something in Francis — probably realizes he has to take her seriously, can’t patronize her by going through the motions like he has with the rest of us from Bark Bay — because he now starts attacking with a speed and dexterity I haven’t seen from him all morning. His foil whips silently around Annie like a fishing line, the red tip like a bobber in a choppy sea, catching your eye for a second then disappearing immediately under a wave.
Three touch rights later, they’re at the break between second and final encounters, Francis ahead 11 – 8.
Annie’s shaking her head as she walks off the strip towards us. Butch has found a water bottle, hands it to her. She’s breathing hard, has to catch her breath before she drinks.
“How do you feel?” Coach Dan asks as she raises the bottle to her lips.
Annie tilts her head back, her ponytail falling in front of her left shoulder. Her face, covered with sweat, glistens in the dim light of the field house. Water flows down from the bottle into her mouth, her red cheeks filling, then collapsing as she swallows. She gulps loudly, I can sense the flow of liquid from her mouth, down through her throat, past her chest, into her stomach. She lowers the bottle, levels her head, opens her mouth wide take in air, and launches a smile that fills this cold dark field house with the warmth of a summer’s day.
“How do I feel? I feel — alive, more full of life than I’ve ever felt before. I feel like this bout is where I need to be, that I was meant to do exactly what I’m doing now. I feel — like I don’t want this bout to end. Ever. That’s how I feel.”
I look over at Coach Dan. For the first time I can remember he seems at a loss for words. But at the same time, I sense he feels that he doesn’t need to say anything at all.